Nigeria has been named as a key Christian persecution hotspot in 2020, with organisations such as Amnesty International, Barnabas Fund and Release International expressing grave concern over the escalating violence.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI), a report published annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace, cited Nigeria as being the third worst country in the world for religious persecution. It found that deaths attributed to Fulani elements in 2019 had risen by 261 per cent since 2018.
Three Islamist groups are attacking Christians across the country, which Release International has stated is a ‘key country of concern’. The groups are the Fulani militia, Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
This comes as Barnabas Fund reported on a video released by Islamic State, which claimed to show the execution of 11 Christians by ISWAP, a splinter group of Boko Haram militants in Nigeria. Ten of the men were beheaded and the eleventh was shot.
The video was released on 26 December, seemingly to coincide with Christmas celebrations, and the hostage murders were in revenge for the death of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed himself during an attack by US forces in October 2019.
Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International, said, ‘Tens of thousands of Christians are being driven from their homes by the ongoing persecution in Nigeria.
‘While the death toll is rising, the world simply watches. Nigeria’s government appears to lack the will or the power to prevent the killings.’
Release International’s Nigeria partner, Archbishop Ben Kwashi (pictured), said, ‘Across the north, the mainly Muslim Fulani have been taking land from predominantly Christian farmers by force and occupying their villages.
‘They attack, typically, in the middle of the night while people are sleeping. They shoot in the air and create panic to drive the villagers out.
‘When the people flee from their houses into the darkness, the Fulani lie in wait with their machetes and cut them down. Again and again. And the government seems powerless to stop them’.
Other persecution hotspots for 2020 identified by Release International include Iran, Iraq, India and China. In each of these countries, the advocacy organisation warned of ‘growing evidence of increasing violence against Christians’.